1. POTUS AND CODELS — THEY’RE BACK!: Both President (POTUS) Biden and Vice President Harris have taken their first foreign trips since assuming office to demonstrate that the United States is once again showing leadership and consulting with its friends. The President’s destination was Europe for the G7 summit in the UK, the NATO and U.S.-EU summit in Belgium, and the U.S.-Russia summit in Switzerland. The Vice President was in Guatemala and Mexico to focus on immigration and deliver a key message: “Do not come to the U.S.”
Besides these two leaders’ well-publicized and orchestrated trips, there’s another sign that more “normal” times are returning to foreign affairs — the ritual of overseas trips by Congressional delegations, or CODELS, has returned. Embassy officials, including PD officers, may love or hate CODELS, but such visits by those who determine State appropriations cannot be ignored. Most delegations of senators, representatives, and/or Hill staffers expect and appreciate Embassy logistics and media support and in-country briefings. Compared to pre-pandemic times, however, CODELS are expected to be smaller in size, shorter in duration, and more policy-focused (read: less sightseeing and shopping!). Given today’s media and voter scrutiny, no politician wants to be perceived as taking junkets. Foreign affairs professionals, however, know the value that can come out of serious, in-person foreign visits by lawmakers.
A good example of a recently-resumed CODEL was the early June visit to a couple of Asian countries by a bipartisan delegation of Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill), Chris Coons (D-Del), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). The trip drew more attention than the average CODEL because the senators stopped in friendly Taiwan to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen and announced that the United States would be donating 750,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Taiwan. The CODEL, of course, angered China, which has never liked high-profile U.S. official visitors to Taiwan ever since the United States changed its diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979. During the South Korean part of their trip, the three senators met with Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong in Seoul. Following their talks, the ministry released a rather dramatic official photo of the senators and the Minister — all wearing masks.
2. FINALLY: THE UNITED STATES PLAN TO SHARE VACCINES WITH THE WORLD: Arguably, the most important — and welcomed – Biden Administration press release issued to date was the one issued June 3, 2021, and headlined: “FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Unveils Strategy for Global Vaccine Sharing, Announcing Allocation Plan for the First 25 Million Doses to be Shared Globally.”
Following months of intense deliberation and pleas and pressure from individual countries and the international community to “do more” to help countries defeat COVID-19, the United States finally announced its framework for “sharing at least 80 million U.S. vaccine doses globally by the end of June and the plan for the first 25 million doses.” According to the fact sheet, “This vaccine strategy is a vital component of our overall global strategy to lead the world in the fight to defeat COVID-19, including emergency public health assistance and aid to stop the spread and building global public health capacity and readiness to beat not just this pandemic, but the next one.”
The announcement contained some of the specific U.S. plans and assistance details that the world community has long been seeking. For example, 75% of the donated 80 million doses will be shared through COVAX, the vaccine delivery platform which is part of GAVI, the Global Vaccine Alliance, so as to maximize the number of vaccines available equitably for the greatest number of countries and for those most at-risk within countries. Twenty-five percent will go to immediate needs in our region, including to our closest neighbors Canada and Mexico, and to help with surges around the world. For the full text of the fact sheet, go to: https://www.whitehouse.
With the June 3 announcement, which Gayle Smith, the recently-named State Department Coordinator for Global COVID-19 Response and Health Security, helped formulate, our diplomats and development officers now have at least an initial framework to help explain U.S. “vaccine diplomacy” efforts. Still, they will be kept busy answering a barrage of tough questions, such as when will future tranches be released or new U.S. commitments made, and what criteria is the United States using to make the decisions around which countries or regions get its donations. As the United States gains a vaccine surplus and more normalcy returns, the Biden Administration can expect to face greater pressure from the many countries suffering vaccine shortages and virus surges. (Upon his arrival in Europe for the G-7 Summit, the President announced additional U.S. support for coordinated multilateral action. He won praise when he said the United States will buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and donate them to COVAX for use in some 100 countries.)
For background, visit: https://www.state.gov/
3. COMING SOON: FRENCH CULTURAL INFLUENCE ON U.S. SOIL: Most public diplomacy practitioners — along with Smithsonian officials and the U.S. branch of the International Council of Museums — know the power of art and culture and still appreciate brick-and-mortar structures that serve as museums or cultural centers. That’s why they are paying attention to the exciting plans of the world-famous Centre Pompidou, Paris, which includes the Musee national d’art modern housing the richest collection of modern art in Europe, to open its first museum in North America. The site in Jersey City, NJ is not far from the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor and is only a 15-minute train ride from Manhattan.
In this unique U.S.-France cultural cooperation project, the leading French national cultural institution established in Paris in 1977 will partner with Jersey City. Together, they will reinvent and develop the city’s iconic Pathside industrial building in Journal Square into a world-class cultural hub and destination. It is scheduled to open in early 2024. For project details, go to:
The ambitious project will draw upon the Centre’s vast experience in extending its collection and expertise beyond its Paris walls. Through a unique development model it calls “co-constructing,” for a period of typically five years, the Centre has successfully launched satellite branches in Malaga, Spain; Brussels, Belgium; and Shanghai, China. The local partner funds and runs the site, and Pompidou Centre designs the exhibits and branding. For background on the Centre’s international efforts, visit: centrepompidou.fr/en/the-
4. CHANGING OF THE GUARD AT NED: Carl Gershman, the legendary president of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) since its founding in 1984, will be retiring this summer. His replacement will be Damon Wilson, Executive Vice President of the Atlantic Council since 2011 and a veteran former National Security Council and State Department official. (From 2006-2007, he was Executive Secretary and Chief of Staff in U.S. Embassy Baghdad, where he helped manage one of our largest embassies during a time of conflict.)
NED is a unique, bipartisan foundation dedicated to the strengthening of democracy around the world. It was established as a private institution in response to President Reagan’s call for a global campaign to foster democracy. Well known to democracy advocates around the world and to the public diplomacy community, NED has four core institutes, including the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute. With an annual appropriation from Congress, NED funds more than 2,000 grants in 100 countries. For background on NED and its next president, visit: https://www.ned.org/national-
5. EAST-WEST CENTER STAYS ENGAGED: Despite the impact of the pandemic on its in-person programs, the East-West Center has maintained an active virtual public diplomacy presence to foster cooperative study, research, and dialogue. Established by the U.S. Congress in 1960, the Honolulu-based Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern among the nations of Asia, Pacific, and the United States, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.
A recent example of a high-profile Center activity was its Pacific Islands Development Program’s secretariat support to the June 1-2, 2021 Eleventh Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders. Held online this year, the gathering of regional leaders included a video message from Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a session with U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry, and discussions of priorities such as containing the COVID-19 pandemic and promoting sustainable economic growth and development. Established in 1980, the summit convenes about every three years, and provides Island leaders with a multi-lateral forum to address shared issues and to dialogue with U.S. officials and experts. The Center’s Pacific Islands Development Program was established that same year at the specific request of the region’s leaders.
Another example of recent activity is “North Korea in the World,” a webinar and podcast series that the Center has initiated with the nongovernmental National Committee on North Korea, whose executive director is Keith Luse, a former senior policy advisor to Senator Richard Lugar. The Center has scheduled four webinars on North Korea’s external economic and diplomatic relations over the summer. For background on this joint initiative, go to: www.northkoreaintheworld.org.
The Center’s alumni total more than 68,000, including many from throughout Asia. They will have an opportunity to be updated on what’s been happening at the Center over the past unprecedented year, and share experiences at a July 16-17, 2021 virtual mini-conference organized by the Center’s Office of Alumni Engagement and the East-West Center Association, which is the alumni organization. The plan is to have the July virtual event serve as a “bridge to 2022,” when the Center hopes to observe its anniversary of 60-plus years with a big, in-person alumni conference in Honolulu. The gathering planned for 2020 had to be postponed due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Center is going through some management changes. Five new board members, appointed to three-year terms by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo before leaving office, have joined its Board of Governors: Caroline Casagrande, recent Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Academic Programs; Kelley E. Currie, recent Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues; recent Ambassador to India Kenneth I. Juster; recent Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David R. Stilwell; and Hawaii State Representative Gene Ward. They have replaced Jeffery L. Bleich, Kurt M. Campbell, Margaret Carpenter, Jennifer Park Stout, and Kirk Wagar. (Campbell, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, has joined President Biden’s National Security Council in the powerful, new position of Indo-Pacific Coordinator.) Also joining the 18-person Board as an international member is Dr. Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands from 2016-2020. Now a Member of Parliament, she was the first woman to serve as president of her country and the first woman to be head of state in any of the five Micronesian countries of the North Pacific. (The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs is always one of three ex-officio members of the Center’s Board.)
Finally, the Center has started a search for a new president. Dr. Richard R. Vuylsteke, president since January 2017, has announced his intention to step down when his five-year contract is completed at the end of this year. For information about the Center, go to: https://www.eastwestcenter.
Dr. Michael H. Anderson is a public diplomacy and Asian affairs specialist with nearly 30 years of Foreign Service experience serving in the US Department of State and the US Information Agency (USIA) and working in South Asia and Southeast Asia. His Public Affairs Officer (PAO) postings included New Delhi, Jakarta, Karachi, Singapore, Manila and Port Moresby. He also has been a journalist, a teacher, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia, an information officer with UNICEF, and an East-West Center grantee. He is a member of the PDC Board.